Learning how to be confident on camera is one of the most important skills anyone can have in 2020.
Consider: over three billion people use social media like Facebook and Instagram, and video content is by far the most powerful medium on both platforms. Video content informs, inspires, and incites. It can spark joy, breed animosity, or fuel hatred (depending on who’s speaking).
Today, we take job interviews over Skype. We video-call friends and family with Facebook. We create video sales letters with DSLRs, and film life-changing vlogs with our phone cameras.
Our entire lives now take place in front of a camera, in one way or another.
Unfortunately, most people straight-up suck at being in videos. They fumble over simple words. They make strange facial expressions, and look confused. Or their eye contact is downright creepy.
And it massively impairs their ability to connect with people.
Given nothing more than a phone and an average internet connection, I’d wager that a single, well-spoken person in front of a camera can have more of an impact on the world than even the President of the United States could just a century ago.
And that person could be you… if you knew how to talk to a camera.
But it turns out it’s much easier than most people think to become confident in front of a camera. Most of you, barring some exceptions, are really only six small steps (and an hour or two of practice) away from being the awesome, camera-friendly video-star you’ve always wanted to be.
What follows are the six steps anybody can take to learn how to be confident in front of a camera.
Get Confident, Camera-Loving Eyes
In speaking to a camera, your eyes are a window to your audience. Your eyes let them know your state of mind — how present you are, how much passion you have for the subject, and so on.
Most people, when speaking to a camera for the first time, struggle heavily with appearing present and passionate. They appear “zoned-out” due to heavy eyes, and often find it hard to stare at the camera for more than a few seconds at a time. This is because our brains are biologically tuned to respond well to faces, not little black circles. Understandably, the lack of audience feedback makes it awkward and difficult to get right the first time around.
The golden rule in speaking to a camera is to stare at the lens as much as humanly possible. If you can do it 100% of the time, do it 100% of the time. If you can only muster 80% to start, that’s fine. As the video session goes on, you’ll gain confidence and find that staring at the camera gets easier.
Most of you will also want to consciously pull your eyes open just a little more than you’re probably comfortable with. Cameras usually drain a speaker’s enthusiasm by as much as 20%, and since your eyes are the most important part of your presentation, it impacts them the worst.
To combat this, open your eyes as wide as they can go, and hold that pose for a few moments before filming. You’ll temporarily “stretch” out the muscles that open your eyes, and they’ll feel lighter during recording.
Facial Expressions For The Camera
The two biggest things people get wrong with their faces on camera are:
- Smiling with only their mouth instead of their entire face
- Looking “dead” on camera due to low energy
The first point — smiling with only your mouth instead of with your entire face — is incredibly common. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly detrimental to developing strong rapport with the viewer.
Most people think their smile stops at their cheeks. Newsflash: it doesn’t. A real, full-bodied smile incorporates several additional muscle groups in the face, including one known as the zygomatic major. Not activating this muscle can make you look fake or even creepy. You can see the pronounced difference below:
Smiling with just your mouth can look creepy or off-putting. But combined with the zygomatic major, this man’s smile looks warm and genuine.
Like I mentioned before, a camera usually saps up to 20% of a speaker’s enthusiasm on camera. For this reason, it’s essential to exaggerate any and all emotions you wish to portray. If you’re telling a story and you get to a happy part, don’t just smile — beam with joy. Pretend you’re acting on stage, and embrace that larger then life feeling. Be yourself… multiplied by 1.5.
Confident Hand Gestures For The Camera
If you’re speaking on camera, having hand gestures isn’t optional. It’s necessary. Hand gestures amplify a story — they’re the difference between a speaker that was just okay and one that was jaw-droppingly awesome.
The bad news is, there’s no structured formula to learn how to use hand gestures.
The good news is, hand gestures are one of the easiest things in the world to learn through unstructured observation.
Pull up a clip of your favorite motivational speaker or politician. Turn the audio off. As they speak, mimic their hand gestures as best you can.
Do this once per night for twenty minutes, and by the end of the week, you’ll find that you’ve begun to incorporate their gestures as your own. Why does this work? I’m not quite sure… but monkey see, monkey do.
Vocal Tonality That Improves Camera Charisma
Here’s a quick crash-course on how to use vocal tonality to become more confident on camera.
There are three basic forms of vocal tonality.
The first is called seeking rapport. It’s where you end every sentence by increasing the pitch of your voice. Seeking rapport sounds like this:
The second is called breaking rapport. It’s where you end every sentence by decreasing the pitch of your voice. Breaking rapport sounds like this:
The third is called neutral rapport. This is how most people talk to their friends and family. Here, your pitch stays neutral throughout the course of your sentence, and doesn’t go up or down. Like this:
So which should you use?
Simple — always use breaking rapport whenever possible.
Breaking rapport makes you sound knowledgeable, powerful, and influential. If you want to become more confident in front of a camera, try to end every sentence with breaking rapport tonality. People will instinctively see you as a higher value, more competent person.
Most writers on charisma agree that, in life, you usually want to be as loud as possible in a given environment because it maximizes your perceived confidence. This is cold, hard science — people perceive loud speaking as more confident behavior than quiet speaking, and are more likely to assign you higher social value as a result.
However, it’s a little difficult to maintain that loudness in front of the camera, because most microphones will redline (i.e, max out) quite quickly as you increase decibels. Most people speak quieter on camera as a result, which hurts their perceived confidence and success.
But loudness helps improve your energy and your charisma, so we don’t just want to get rid of it — we need a workaround that lets us speak loudly without redlining.
Luckily, the workaround is very simple: move your microphone further away from you, and speak louder to compensate.
This gives you the added benefits of better perceived confidence and improved energy while only minimally affecting the quality of your audio. Yes, to be clear, it will negatively impact your audio (a bit). But it’s a tradeoff most people are willing to make when they consider the benefits: looking much more confident and energetic on camera.
Now that we have the what out of the way, it’s time for the how — mainly, how do you become loud?
Most people mistakenly use their chest to breathe instead of their diaphragm. You can check if you’re doing it — if, when you take a breath in, your chest rises first instead of your belly, you’re a chest breather.
But believe it or not, the musculature that surrounds your lungs is actually significantly weaker than the musculature that surrounds your stomach. And this weakness means that breathing with your chest severely limits the amount of air you can inhale.
Your voice is simply a byproduct of air passing through your voicebox. So less air in your lungs means less air passing through your vocal cords, and this results in a quieter, weaker voice.
To fix this, learn to breathe with your diaphragm by taking a deep breath with your belly instead of your chest. Visualize your lungs like a glass of water. When you pour water into a glass, which part of the glass fills first — the bottom or the top?
Unless you’re in front of a black hole, the bottom fills first because of gravity. Think of your lungs the same way; use your diaphragm to fill the bottom before you use your chest muscles to fill the top. Voilà — you now sound significantly more confident in front of the camera!
Vary Your Verbal Cadence
You can think of your verbal cadence as the rhythm of your voice.
Just like a song or a piece of music, your voice has built-in rhythm. Your words can be fast or slow. Rambling or melodic. And each of those cadences has power and a different effect on your audience.
A mistake I see many beginners make when trying to become more confident on camera is speaking too quickly. They try and cram every moment of silence with words in the vain hopes that the viewer will see them as intelligent or well-spoken.
But it doesn’t work. Instead their voice increases in pitch, making them sound weaker and less confident. They start stumbling over their words because they’re rushing, not giving their brain enough time to catch up.
I encourage you to take advantage of the silence between words and sentences. There is power there — power that most people never learn to use. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you should speak slower, because slower is not always good. Instead, use punctuating silence to provide emphasis. If you need a strong example, watch former Facebook VP Chamath Palihapitiya talk about how he believes Facebook is ripping apart society:
In this video, Chamath Palihapitiya maximizes the use of silence for dramatic effect. His voice doesn’t ramble — instead, every sentence is varied and his cadence is always different. Rather than easily bore of the rhythm of his voice, the audience (myself included) hangs on to his every word. Notice, too, how he uses strong breaking rapport tonality to achieve the effect of confidence and knowledge of his subject matter.
Cadence isn’t actually very difficult. Most people understand how to do it — they just don’t because they’re not confident enough to embrace the silence. Silence is scary, after all.
If this describes you, don’t despair! Just start practicing today. Add a little bit of silence at the end of your sentences when discussing particularly emotional points. Or, if you have a presentation or a public speaking session coming up, try introducing yourself and then being dead-silent for the first four or five seconds to build tension. I guarantee you your audience will appreciate it.
And that’s a wrap! To reiterate what we’ve learned so far about how to become more confident in front of a camera:
Stare at the camera as much as possible, and open your eyes 15–20% wider than you’re comfortable with.
When you smile, don’t just smile with your mouth — do the Duchenne smile by engaging your entire face. Exaggerate your facial expressions to counteract the draining effect of the camera.
Use hand gestures constantly. Learn them by watching your favorite speakers with the audio off and mimicking their movements.
Employ breaking rapport tonality (where the end of your sentence is lower in pitch than the beginning) for maximum perceived confidence and knowledge.
Breathe from your diaphragm by pushing out your belly during an inhalation. Move the mic further from your mouth to stop redlining — then, speak louder to compensate.
Don’t be afraid of silence. Vary your cadence and excite your viewers.
Congratulations for making it this far! You now have all the skills you need to make a killer video sales letter, film a great YouTube video, or interview for your next job.
But, just like any skill, just reading about it won’t help you to fully internalize these lessons — you need to consciously employ them the next time you film something. So I encourage you: if you have a moment, grab your phone and give it a quick test run right this second. When it’s over, you’ll be happy you did!